I get all kinds of email at D.I.-Why. Most of it comes from artists that want to get their foothold in the music biz. They’re about to release an album and they want to sell a kajillion copies, get rich, and never work again. Other artists are looking for an angle toward licensing and placement, because “that’s where the money is.” Still others are simply looking to build buzz toward an undefined goal. Maybe it’s fame, maybe it’s money, maybe it’s the desire to disrupt the status quo. I prefer the latter, but that’s another story …
With every platform that releases a new gimmicky way to give away free tracks, sell your music on FaceSpace or MyBook, and empower your fans, we’re not overly impressed. These are all wonderful tools, but they’re only as good as the person that’s using them.
Recently a potential client IM’ed me. His exact words were, “ok so i have the hit song… so what do i do next??” People who answer questions with questions are obnoxious, but my response was “where’s your audience?” He had no idea. That, before you worry about anything else, is precisely what comes next.
As you search the Interwebs, there’s not a single company that guarantees you an audience. Having videos on YouTube doesn’t guarantee an audience, nor does getting your music on Spotify and iTunes. Ask anyone who’s ever put up a profile on a dating site. Just being there won’t promise you true love. You’ve got to appeal to your audience. This is where marketing comes in. This is where you want to start thinking about the business side of the music business. This is where you’ll either launch or crash. This is where the fun starts, but it’s also where the hard work is.
Knowing your audience means (in its basic form) understanding who they are and what they’re looking for. If you’re providing what they want or need, they’ll buy it. See how that works? Audience first, money second. Reverse the order and it just won’t fly.
That artist who wrote his hit song, my first advice in audience building was to own his hometown. In his case, that was San Diego, CA. San Diego’s got a great music scene, and it’s not a massive metropolis. While you want all of the online accoutrements that go with the business today (Facebook, website, etc.), you’re not going to get as immediate of a response as you would in front of a live audience hearing you perform. Even if it’s an open mic night at the local coffeehouse, there’s still a chance to gain a fan or two. Carry a clipboard, collect names and email addresses. Ask people for honest feedback. Show your audience that you value them, and if your stuff’s any good, you’ll have earned a fan. Now keep practicing, honing your craft, performing, and you’ll find that 2 fans become 4 and then 10 and 20, and soon you’ve got a decent little following. Once you’re a big enough deal in San Diego, use that growing reputation and get a smaller gig in Los Angeles. Now start the same process all over again. You’re not likely to sell out the Staples Center, but you’re doing business in L.A., you’ve got hometown fans in San Diego, maybe it’s time to think about gigs in San Francisco. Now you’re big in California. Next up – Vegas? Seattle? Phoenix? All the while, you’ve got your website, Facebook, and Twitter going. You’ve got your tracks online where they should be and even a decent video from your last gig. The audience you’ve grown locally will act/interact with you in places where folks from all around can see. Holy crap – your audience is growing!
Get in the habit of conversing with fans, offering something of value, making them feel engaged. If they like you, they’ll support you. It works with 10 fans and it works with 10,000 fans. This is when all those companies with $9.99/month solutions come into play. Just remember, they’re a tool in your toolbox and nothing more. They can’t make you famous or rich or successful unless you know how to use them.
Go to networking events, busk in subway stations, see what other performers are doing. Nothing thrives in a vacuum.
None of this is new advice, but it’s the only advice that’s realistic. To prove the point, D.I.-Why worked with a client who often said “I know my audience.” We’d suggest a marketing campaign, and it would get vetoed. ”My audience wouldn’t like that.” Finally we said “who’s your audience? Show them to us, prove they exist!” We looked at the artist’s Facebook page. There were 7 fans. Then we checked the website. There was nothing going on. Then we checked Twitter. No real action there either. No sales, no mailing list, just nothing.
The artist was frustrated at the lack of success, but refused to accept that big problems don’t always require huge fancy solutions. If you had 20 fans that were paying attention to you — liking Facebook posts, downloading a track, maybe (oh my!) telling their friends about you … then you’ve got a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Without an audience though, you can’t be surprised when nothing happens …